Ending Fayette schools, health department nursing contract is a ‘mistake,’ critics say

Longtime Lexington nurses and a top health department official are among those expressing reservations about Fayette County Public Schools ending a 49-year nursing contract with the Lexington-Fayette Health Department, set for discussion at Monday’s school board planning session.

“I am concerned about the potential loss of quality nursing care to the children in our schools caused by the recommendation to select a bid that is significantly less than the one from our health department; a community partner in our schools for many years,” said Sharon Holmes, who was assistant dean of academic assessment and operations in the University of Kentucky College of Nursing when she retired in 2016 and director of nursing for Kentucky Children’s Hospital from 1986-2010.

FCPS officials announced Nov. 27 they had chosen another vendor to provide school nurses. School district officials released a document showing the new vendor, Maxim, outbid the health department. The health department bid $4,565,138 for services. Maxim bid $3,143,850.

Each bid was scored was based on cost (30%), the technical proposal (30%) which included qualifications, licenses, tracking and reporting, references (10%) and the interview (30%).

After all scores were calculated, Maxim Healthcare was the highest score at 391.4, and was recommended. The health department’s score was 241.1. The bid document will be on the agenda for the December 4 Fayette school board planning meeting. A final vote is scheduled for December 14.

The number of nurses impacted by the decision is between 54 and 58, district spokesperson Dia Davidson-Smith has said. Officials with Maxim told the school district they are willing to interview and hire the current nursing staff members if they are interested in staying with the current school where they work, she said.

Carol Komara, a nurse and former Fayette school board member, is among those speaking out.

”As a school nurse advocate, and as a member of the Kentucky Nurses Association school nurse task force, I am very disappointed that the current model and partnership with the FCHD is being discontinued,” Komara said. “For 10 years now, our local advocacy group has worked with staff from the FCPS to cooperatively advise, offer resources and work toward the goal of having a school nurse in every school, every day, all day.”

With financial funding and a commitment from the local school board, Komara said her group realized this goal could be reached. Consistent nurse staffing where children, parents and faculty can engage daily with the school nurse is paramount, said Komara.

In response to the concerns, Davidson-Smith told the Herald-Leader Saturday her earlier comment stood: “FCPS is in no way compromising student health care or employee access to employment.”

Nursing practice in a school setting is a very autonomous role, said Holmes, noting that nurses provide care and support to students, parents, teachers and staff.

“They must have support from supervisors who are experienced nurses themselves and are readily available to the nurse who is the only healthcare provider in a school setting. Certainly there needs to be a close look at what is guaranteed in both contracts to assure the needs of students, faculty and staff in schools are met,” Holmes said.

At a meeting of the Fayette County Board of Health executive committee Nov. 30, interim chief administrative officer Jack Cornett said, “It is a bit confusing to us. From our vantage point, quite frankly, we view it as a mistake, but it is their mistake to make,” WLEX reported.

Health Department spokesperson Kevin Hall confirmed the statement and told the Herald-Leader Saturday that “Jack was referencing a move away from LFCHD as the school health program as being a mistake.”

Wendy Wheeler-Mullins, an advocate for students with disabilities as a board member of the Autism Society of the Bluegrass, said having a consistent, long-term nursing staff makes a big difference in the kind of care students receive. She said her children, now adults, benefited from school nurses in Fayette County Public Schools.

“School nurses do far more than just dispense medications to students during the school day,” Wheeler-Mullins said. “They manage the health of diabetic students, address general health problems for all students, and end up being a trusted unofficial go-to-person for some children. They have important relationships with pupils that help them provide better care.

“This is not a position where the emphasis should be on saving money,” said Wheeler-Mullins.